First Person Shooters, particularly on the online multiplayer side of things, have evolved incredibly in recent years. No longer are punters satisfied with a vanilla deathmatch game - we've been spoiled rotten with countless user-made modifications for every half-way popular shooter to a point where, when a new game comes out, it not only has to compete with, for example, the original Half-Life 2 and it's deathmatch and capture the flag variants, but also the likes of Day of Defeat, the mighty Counter-Strike and dozens of other popular community-created mods.
If a shooter is to succeed in today's market it needs to be polished on release or there's a good chance we'll forget all about it before they can patch it enough to be a great game. With that presumably in mind, Splash Damage (best known for their work on the freely downloadable Wolfenstien: Enemy Territory) and id Software (you know, those guys that brought us Doom, Quake, more Quake and more Doom) have joined forces to bring us Enemy Territory: Quake Wars - a game aimed squarely at the team-based multiplayer scene. The gameplay being a natural progression of Wolf: ET with the addition of Battlefield-esque vehicular combat, all wrapped up into id Software's Quake universe.
You may think that a multiplayer only game doesn't even need a story at all, but it works quite well here, providing a common theme for the maps and purpose to the conflict. It's set as a precursor to the events in Quake 2 and once again sees the humans fighting the parasitic alien race known as the Strogg. In Quake 2, you played as a human space marine taking part in an invasion on the Strogg's home turf. Quake Wars is all about the build up to that - the point where they first hit us at home, here on Earth. Each of the game's multiplayer maps are described as a re-enactment of key battles from the Strogg invasion. It's a touch cheesy but doesn't take itself too seriously. At any rate, it beats the old 'two teams destined to fight each other something, something... engaged mortal combat' gig.
Refreshingly, the game's two factions the Strogg and the Global Defence Force aren't just re-skinned versions of each other. Although they both have five equivalent classes (GDF Soldier, Engineer, Medic, Covert-Ops and Field-Ops and Strogg Aggressor, Constructor, Technician, Infiltrator and Oppressor) each side has their own unique special abilities and weapon load out. For instance, while both the GDF covert-ops and Strogg infiltrator can deploy team radar and take an enemy disguise, a covert-ops comes equipped with smoke grenades and a portable camera/bomb while a Strogg infiltrator packs a remote controlled flying drone and personal teleporter - great for a quick exit. The weaponry, while similarly equivalent on each side, also has subtle differences that keep things interesting. Vehicles and deployables also play a big part in mixing it up. It's not exactly StarCraft in terms of intricate asymmetrical balance, but it's a cut above the other popular games in this genre.
Each team has a generous array of vehicles ranging from single-driver ATVs and jetpacks to multi-occupant troop carriers, tanks and aircraft, perhaps the most immediately noticeable difference in the faction's asymmetry. The Strogg's Cyclops walker is more heavily armoured and has a slightly more powerful attack than the GDF Titan tank but it is also much slower moving and has a shorter range of fire. Then there's deployables - engineer and field-ops classes can call in defense turrets and artillery weapons respectively, the placement and maintenance of which can have an enormous effect on the battle.
All of these elements contribute greatly to the need for strategy and teamplay and although there's currently no built-in microphone voice-chat, Quake Wars does have an intuitive context-sensitive chat-macro menu. Any element of the battle that you wish to quickly notify your team of can be found here. It's both mouse pointer and hotkey driven so nothing is more than a few clicks or key-presses away and of course with the powerful console interface that id Software engines are famous for, it's simple enough to directly bind up anything else you might need.
In regards to animation and 3D modelling, Quake Wars is not a huge leap up from the likes of Doom 3 and Quake 4, however it's the outdoor areas and the scope of the map design that kicks things up a notch here. Utilising id's new Mega Texture technology the levels' vast terrain can all be uniquely painted, making for some very picturesque landscapes that avoid the constantly repeated texture tiling we've always had to accept in games like this. The Quake engines were always good for their interior decorating but I think this is the first time that they've really brought the outdoor scenery up to scratch. Performance is none too shabby either, allowing the same kind of tweaking seen in Quake engines past.
Like every online game worth its salt these days, ET:QW includes a persistent statistics system with global leaderboards and all the trimmings. These can be viewed both in game and on the web at http://stats.enemyterritory.com
. As with the Battlefield series and America's Army etc, only playing on approved "ranked servers" will contribute to global stats play, in a bid to hinder stat padding and out-right cheating.
Although stats collection can be known to have a negative effect on teamplay and gameplay in general, Quake Wars avoids this somewhat by rewarding teamplay related actions and focusing less on the usual kills/deaths ratios. The only real reflection of these accolades while in game is a small rank icon next to each players' name.
Due to the objective-based nature of the game, gameplay is largely dependent on the map design and I'm happy to say that in addition to looking pretty, the 12 included scenarios serve this purpose well. In the past, developers have just released their game with a handful of multiplayer maps, often just plucked straight from a singleplayer campaign with a few spawn points added in and left it to the community mappers to turn their game into something worth sticking around for. So it's good to see such a well-rounded package included out of the box. Indoor infantry combat is quite different to outdoors with vehicles and deployables in the mix - the included maps provide a good assortment of these elements.
Each map is broken up into a series of objectives, generally seeing one team defend while the other attacks. Objectives range from constructing bridges and destroying radar jammers to hacking computer terminals or capturing and transmitting intelligence documents. Many of these tasks can only be completed by a specific class, which makes it all the more important to have a good variety on your team, you're not going to get very far with a team full of soldiers.
The shifting objective system also does a good job of focusing the combat, so unlike some other shooters with similarly vast traversable terrain, it never takes very long to get back to the front and find someone to shoot at. Smaller side objectives are also given out based on class and context. If you're a medic, you will get an optional objective to revive a team-mate when they get fragged. If you're a covert-ops you'll be asked to hack an enemy turret or radar. Completely separate to persistent stats, there's also a temporary upgrade system, similar to Battlefield's unlocks. Experience is earned by performing class related tasks and completing objectives and you're rewarded in the form of extra abilities that will stick with you until the end of the designated map campaign.
If you don't feel like immediately jumping into the online multiplayer fray or your Internet connection isn't up to scratch, Quake Wars features complete AI bot support. The CPU opponents are quite configurable and among the best on offer for any shooter to-date. They know how to drive vehicles, place deployables, capture objectives and work as a team. It's actually kind of scary to sit back and watch them fight each other. That said, they're still no real substitute for actual meatbag opposition but it is a welcome addition to the game, particularly if you want to get a feel for things or have a bit of target practice.
The only real potential failing of the game would be that despite all of these hints, pointers and HUD icons, due to the depth and complexity there is still a relatively steep learning curve, not only just for new players to the game, but for each new map you play. A consolation of this, however, is that the more you play and learn the ins and outs of each class and map, the more rewarding the experience.
As an online only game, this is dependent on two main things: Developer support and actually having enough other people to play with and against. Overall, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is one of the most polished out-of-the-box multiplayer first person shooters ever released - a testament to the usefulness of public beta testing and the "when it's done" ethos of the developers. If the level of community interaction and communication exhibited by the Splash Damage crew so far is any indication, we can expect a good deal of post release support and further additions and fine-tuning in the form of patch updates for some time to come.
As for the community, well, that one's up to you guys. There's a couple of other potentially worthy contenders for your first-person shooter dollar due to land in the coming months, but they're looking different enough that there may well be enough room for everyone. Bottom line, the Splash Damage and id Software crew have done a commendable job creating a lush, complete game that they enjoy playing, so the choice to purchase or not is ultimately one of subjective taste. If you like faster paced FPS action with a team play element and decent amount of depth, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is well worth checking out.